The Pleasures of the Imagination: English Culture in the Eighteenth Century

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9780002559201: The Pleasures of the Imagination: English Culture in the Eighteenth Century

The most significant, ambitious and best-selling history books of the year.

How is it that at the end of the 17th century there was almost no native English tradition in painting, theatre, music or publishing, yet by the end of the 18th century England had one of Europe’s richest cultures? This book explains this transformation and gives us a much deeper and many-faceted portrait of English culture in the eighteenth century than we have ever had before

John Brewer’s enthralling book explains the ways in which literature, painting, music and the theatre were communicated to the public; how the roles of writers, painters, musicians and actors changed dramatically; the creation of professional bodies such as the Royal Academy; and artists were used by publishers, impresarios, managers, enthusiasts, copyists, plagiarists and entrepreneurs of all kinds.

The towering figures of the eighteenth century – Johnson, Reynolds, Garrick, Handel – are the focus for his discussion of each of their arts; but here too are lesser known figures such as Thomas Bewick the engraver, and others completely unknown since their own day, rescued by Brewer from obscurity.

One of the most illuminating aspects of the book is its range outside London – to Chichester and Salisbury for the life of the musician and composer John Marsh; to Lichfield for the self-aggrandising literary bluestocking Anna Seward; to Newcastle-upon-Tyne for Bewick.

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Review:

‘If you want to understand how British culture reinvented itself in the 18th century, read The Pleasures of the Imagination. Like all really original achievements it makes us sharply rethink things we supposed we knew well, but it does so with humour and humanity, and through the text runs Brewer’s remarkable intellect: forceful, lucid and penetrating.’
SIMON SCHAMA

From the Back Cover:

'The Pleasures of the Imagination' examines the birth and development of English ‘high culture’ in the eighteenth century. It charts the growth of a literary and artistic world fostered by publishers, theatrical and musical impresarios, picture dealers and auctioneers, and presented to the public in coffee-houses, concert halls, libraries, theatres and pleasure gardens. In 1660, there were few professional authors, musicians and painters, no public concert series, galleries, newspaper critics or reviews. By the dawn of the nineteenth century they were all part of the cultural life of the nation.

John Brewer’s enthralling book explains how this happened and recreates the world in which the great works of English eighteenth century art were made. Its purpose is to show how literature, painting, music and the theatre were communicated to a public increasingly avid for them. It explores the alleys and garrets of Grub Street, rummages the shelves of bookshops and libraries, peers through printsellers’ shop windows and into artists’ studios, and slips behind the scenes at Drury Lane and Covent Garden. It takes us out of Gay and Boswell’s London to visit the debating clubs, poetry circles, ballrooms, concert halls, music festivals, theatres and assemblies that made the culture of English provincial towns, and shows us how the national landscape became one of Britain’s greatest cultural treasures. It reveals to us a picture of English artistic and literary life in the eighteenth century less familiar, but more surprising, more various and more convincing than any we have seen before.

“If you want to understand how British culture reinvented itself in the eighteenth century, read 'The Pleasures of the Imagination'… Like all really original achievements it makes us sharply rethink things we supposed we knew well, but it does so with humour and humanity, and through the text runs Brewer’s remarkable intellect: forceful, lucid and penetrating.”
SIMON SCHAMA

“'The Pleasures of the Imagination' is a splendid cornucopia of a book. It describes the contortions of the eighteenth century as it developed as a culture…It is full of pure delight…The marvel of this book is that in writing in exuberant detail about the past, Brewer succeeds in illuminating the present…This book wears its massive scholarship lightly. I hope some of our new political masters have time to read it, for it is a history that teaches us many lessons.”
PETER HALL, 'Observer'

“Brewer ranges over almost every corner of the English mind with sharp, darting observation…Brewer is perceptive, amusing and thorough wherever he strays. This is by far the most complete and up-to-date account of the evolving Georgian arts…We are shown round a society aiming at Rome but often hitting Babylon, with the combined attitudes of 'fin-de-siècle' Paris and of Las Vegas. This is a book to treasure as it treasures a past we thought we had lost.”
PAT ROGERS, 'Sunday Telegraph'

“A model of the new cultural history…In 'Britons', Linda Colley highlighted the new political, patriotic and religious tides which flowed in the Georgian age, creating a fresh confidence and sense of national identity…'The Pleasures of the Imagination' confirms this view of the making of the public mind. It shows how the English came to feel not just strong but civilized too, polite as well as powerful. God’s chosen people, of the age of Cromwell, were reinventing themselves as Shakespeare’s heirs.”
ROY PORTER, 'Independent'

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